Evidence Permitted from Search After Whimpering Dogs Heard

by | May 23, 2020

United States v. Evans, 2020 WL 2181885 (11th Cir. 2020)

Officers investigating multiple 911 calls reporting gunshots found Willie Evans’ girlfriend outside the home she shared with Evans. The distraught girlfriend, crying in the dark with two small children, told officers she and Evans had argued, and he had threatened to shoot himself. Evans stormed out of the house and the girlfriend heard multiple gunshots.

Evans had gone back into the house before the officers arrived. He initially refused to come out to speak to the officers but relented when asked by his girlfriend. Evans locked the door behind him as he came outside.

Officers handcuffed Evans and placed him in the back of a patrol car. An officer saw four shell casings in the driveway. Just then, one of the officers heard noises that sounded “a little bit like footsteps” and “like somebody crying or whimpering coming from inside the house.”

“Even under ideal conditions, we do not find it implausible that a reasonable person might sometimes mistake the sound of an animal for that of a human.”

The officers decided to enter the home to check for injured persons. Evans claimed he had no key and no one else was in the home, so the officers kicked the front door open. Checking the house, they found a couple of frightened dogs whimpering. The officers also saw two guns in a closet. Based on the knowledge that Evans was a convicted felon, the officers obtained a search warrant for the home. The search produced a rifle, three handguns and ammunition. One of the guns was a semiautomatic firearm capable of accepting a large-capacity magazine and another had an obliterated serial number.

Evans claimed the gunshot noises came from the children playing with fireworks and asked the court to suppress the search, claiming it was unreasonable for an officer to mistake the dogs whimpering for a person in distress. The court disagreed: “Even under ideal conditions, we do not find it implausible that a reasonable person might sometimes mistake the sound of an animal for that of a human.” Notwithstanding, the officers were not presented with ideal conditions. The girlfriend was obviously frightened and distressed, and Evans was uncooperative and deceitful and had threatened to kill himself.

The court denied the motion to suppress the evidence found in the initial sweep of the home and in the subsequent search pursuant to the warrant and upheld Evans’ 70-month sentence. Of course, it’s likely that none of this would have happened if Evans had not screamed at his girlfriend, fired off four rounds and scared the innocent dogs.

This blog was featured in our Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys. Subscribe here!

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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